Kia Soul EV joins electric car ranks

At the 2014 Chicago Auto Show, Kia showed off the Soul EV, an electric car the company will market this year.

Wayne Cunningham Managing Editor / Roadshow
Wayne Cunningham reviews cars and writes about automotive technology for CNET's Roadshow. Prior to the automotive beat, he covered spyware, Web building technologies, and computer hardware. He began covering technology and the Web in 1994 as an editor of The Net magazine.
Wayne Cunningham
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Kia Soul EV
Kia Soul EV
Kia converts its Soul model to an electric. Kia

Kia chose the Chicago Auto Show, beginning this week, as the debut venue for the Soul EV, the electric version of Kia's boxy little hatchback SUV thing. The standard Soul model received a major update for the 2014 model year. The Soul EV will be Kia's first electric car.

As one of Kia's more distinctive models, the Soul seems a good choice on which to base an electric vehicle. It will go up against cars such as the Chevy Spark EV, Fiat 500e, and the veteran Nissan Leaf.

In that crucial measure of EV performance, range, the Soul EV offers no surprises. Kia cites figures of 80 to 100 miles on a full battery, fairly standard in the current market.

Kia Soul EV
Two charging ports hide under the front of the Soul EV. Kia

The Soul EV's charging ports live under a place at the front of the car, similar to the Nissan Leaf. Using its J1772 standard charging port, Kia notes that it will take 5 hours to charge the battery from a 240 volt source. For fast charging, the Soul EV also sports a CHAdeMo standard port, requiring only 33 minutes to bring the battery up to 80 percent charge.

The inclusion of the CHAdeMo port marks another win for this largely Asian-supported fast-charging standard.

Kia packaged the Soul EV's 27 kilowatt-hour battery pack under the floor, helping maintain proper weight balance between front and rear wheels and lowering the car's center of gravity versus the gasoline version. The battery pack consists of 96 lithium-ion polymer cells using air cooling and ceramic separators to guard against heat overrun.

The inclusion of the battery pack diminishes rear seat legroom by 3 inches, according to Kia.

The battery pack powers an 81.4 kilowatt electric motor driving the front wheels, which takes about 12 seconds to bring the Soul EV from zero to 60 mph.

Drivers can set the car to standard or Eco modes, the latter enhancing braking regeneration and reducing climate control energy usage. In addition, a motor braking setting on the shifter increases braking regeneration over the standard Drive mode. To maximize climate control energy saving, Kia includes a driver-only setting, which shuts off vent flow to all but the driver seat area.

As with other electric cars on the market, the Soul EV comes connected, and will let owners control charging and other functions from a smartphone app.

Kia will begin sales of the Soul EV later this year in California, Oregon, New York, New Jersey, and Maryland. Pricing has not yet been announced.